The Playgoer: "Garrett Eisler, Time Out New York" can't be trusted!

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Friday, December 14, 2007

"Garrett Eisler, Time Out New York" can't be trusted!

After giving the new Playwrights Horizons show "Doris to Darlene" what I thought was a pretty middling review this week, imagine my surprise to open my Friday Times this morning to see I had actually loved it! Or at least said, "A Terrific Cast."

Well, fair use, I guess. And at least they had the decency not to add an exclamation point. I did indeed use those words and thought the cast was...well, on the whole at least pretty damn fine. (As a word choice, "terrific" now strikes me as a lazy and/or rushed default.)

Such is the risk one takes when publishing as a print critic.

But one of the nice things about having a blog is the ability to follow up, to "contextualize" the appropriation of my words by advertisers. In short to set the record straight, lest anyone see this flawed play based on my "endorsement." (Which I doubt, anyway, being at the very bottom of the ad. They milked much better sounding quotes out of Isherwood's even less favorable notice.)

So here's my original review again in full. I can't even really say, "in full," though, at 260 words. So, to briefly expand, I though Jordan Harrison's play had a neat idea at its core that I would love to read an essay or an article about--the haunting of pop music by operatic forbearers, as well as the ecstasy engendered by both. But I just didn't think there was a play there. Yeah, it was on stage (and nicely staged by Les Waters). But as Harrison's incessant narration-style indicates, he really just wants to stand on stage and tell you the story himself. Most of the characters are stick figures. (Including the title character(s) I may add.) The only one of the three storylines that feels like drama is the contemporary high school one--which could have worked just fine without cutaways to the historical past. I greatly enjoyed Michael Crane's rendition of a self-aggrandizing hipster record-mogul (aka Phil Spector) but the scenes about Doris/Dorene where sketches at best, whose one central idea wore out pretty quickly. (The later course of their marriage and divorce couldn't have interested me less.)

Moreover, this plot fails to even put over Harrison's whole originating idea; as Isherwood rightly points out, we never even hear the Liebestod in Darlene's pop song. (At least he didn't. And I sure didn't.) So I feel that the music (including the disappointingly short-shrifted Kristin Childs ersatz girl-group songs) was a big letdown.

The only musical magic happens when Tom Nellis delivers a raw and simple a capella 11:00 number of above mentioned Wagner aria.

As I say in my TONY review: the play has "much going for it." What I should have added was: "...but not enough to justify Playwrights Horizons' $65 admittance fee."

So here's some free advice for Adam Feldman and those others in the New York Drama Critics Circle considering some remedy for the rampant contextomies performed on their reviews by marketing departments. Set up a blog! A kind of FactCheck.org for theatre reviews. For every theatre ad, set up links to all the original reviews, so ticket buyers can see for themselves the full context of the pull-quotes.

As I've noted before, the practice is as old as the republic itself. But thanks to these here internets, critics can maybe take back control--just a little control--over their own words.

5 comments:

blogless joe said...

sorry, but what play (even one which more consistently hit its marks than harrison's admirable but flawed effort) would be worth a $65 admittance fee? seriously.

determining the "value" of a theater piece in relation to its ticket price seems like a slippery slope -- as prices are already largely ridiculous (in relation to other entertainment dollars)...
(personally, i don't think even a GREAT play should cost 5-10 times that of a movie ticket.)

in terms of theater criticism, this particular trope (value for your entertainment dollar) also seems more geared towards consumer guidance than an actual critique of the work itself.

or am i reading way too much into this, playgoer?

Robert said...

I don't know. If Garrett Eisler said "Terrific cast," I pretty much HAVE to go. Context be damned.

Anonymous said...

So, your review cites, in addition to a "terrific cast", the writer's "intelligence, originality and passion" and a "visually charming production". You say that the play "has much going for it". And you're surprised when you're quoted in an ad? Good Lord, it's an AD. A thing designed to sell tickets! You can't write easily extractable phrases like that and then complain when someone easily extracts them!

The Playgoer said...

Dear Anon,

You are right: I said many positive things, and I guess they could have quoted more. As I said in the post, I do believe this was fair game.

But I'm just saying it's also fair game for me to respond by qualifying such partial praise and reminding anyone who cares that I had big problems with the play, too, and I did not consider my review (3 stars out of TONY's 6) an endorsement.

Dear "Joe,"

Fair points all. I certainly don't want to fall into the trap of "consumer criticism."

But, hey, just because no play may be "worth" $65 sure doesn't mean that you should go out and spend it on this one!

Another way I could phrase all this is: hey, for free, sure, check it out. But if you're someone who saves their theatregoing dollars sparingly, this is not the one to splurge on.

So how's this for a compromise on the "consumer" approach: three broad ratings:

-See this! Spend whatever it takes!
-Some good things, some bad. Go for free, or a deep discount.
-Waste of time. Don't even go if they pay YOU.

blogless joe said...

heheh. fair enough, playgoer.

and to be honest, as a theatergoer, sometimes all i really *do* want to know from a reviewer is whether it's worth the time/money to go see something -- whereas the theatre criticism is geared more towards post-show discussion/analysis.